4 steps to your perfect chess coach

In this article I want to discuss how you can find a chess coach that is a good fit to you.

Step 1: What do you want?

A coach helps you reaching your goals. To reach them, you should have some. So to know your goals is your first step.

If you don’t know yet, discussing your potential goals with yourself or other people is time very well spent. “Just getting better” is not good enough.

  • A title
  • A rating number
  • Club champion
  • Regional Champion

The list goes on. This is something very personal and cannot be answered by anyone else but yourself.

Goal setting also includes a timeframe within to reach the goal. Try to be realistic, but don’t limit yourself. Also, goals can evolve. Don’t be shy but don’t frustrate yourself.

Step 2: What are you going to invest?

This means two things. The money you are able and ready to pay. The time and effort you put into reaching your goals.

Excellent coaches are rarely cheap. However, expensive does not mean quality. How many hours of coaching do you want? How much is that per month?

In my opinion, a sign of a good coach is that he is going to give you homework (hopefully lots of it). How much time are you ready to put into chess? Weekly, monthly? Will this work out to reach your goal?

What are you already doing that could be considered training? Will this be continued, extended or substituted by your work with your coach?

Step 3: The coach

You know what you want, and you know what you are bringing to the table.

Now, let’s discuss the persona of your perfect coach.

Generally, a coach should have enough expertise in the field he is trying to coach. But other skills are also important. In chess it seems that the best and most famous coaches are not the best players, but they have reached at least master level (eg. IM Dworetzki, IM Silman, …) They have worked enough on their game to reach a very high level (eg. IM top 2% of all rated players). But then at some point they decided that teaching is more fun than improving their own game, so they started improving their teaching! And then they reached master level at coaching, too! Very few of us will have the opportunity to work with the greatest in 1 on 1 lessons. But if you are looking for a great coach, and can’t get the best, you also don’t want to be a good players experiment on coaching.  Fide has a system to coaches (FIDE trainer) but even those differ.

After a certain level, the coach does not need to be a stronger player than the coachee. An example might be the higly successfull collaboration of GM Sam Shankland and GM Jacob Aagaard, where Mr. Shankland was being coached by the aprox. two hundred points lower rated Mr. Aagaard. Also, who could ever be a coach to the world champion?

You also do not want a strong player that is in only for the quick money. A good player is not automatically a good coach. And money shouldn’t be a motivator (or at least not high priority) for your coach to teach. As pointed out above, good or great coaches have made a decision to be a coach. Their student’s success becomes their success. They enjoy passing on knowledge or learnings. They even might have “teaching goals” and you need to be a fit for them. An excellent coach for kids might take pride in preparing the new regional, national, or even world champion.

Important: You should get along. It can work to work with people you don’t like, but it will be much easier, more efficient and in general more fun if you get along outside of your lessons as well. If you don’t want to meet your coach for a coffee then don’t hire him as your coach! And something of personal preference in this regard: I prefer clean enlish or my native language to be taught in. I want to be able to concentrate on the class content fully and not focus on wondering what the teacher just said.

Pricing: Since you want to improve, your value is your improvement, the price is what you pay. As stated earlier: You need to pay a good coach well but paying well does not result automatically in a good coach.

Coaches’ hourly rates differ a lot. To compare them, you would need to ask: What value do I get for how much money?

Some will charge you an hour but due to homework and self-study bring much more value.

I once had a coach who tried to sell me (remote) lessons that worked in the following way: I shared my screen in a call, he would read his lines and I entered them into my chessbase. Some hints and questions (announced as exercises) in between. That was his way to teach an opening. No homework. The hourly rate was comparably low, but the value was even lower! Be sure my first test lesson was also my last.

Let’s summarize:

  • The coach has reached what you are trying to achieve or
  • The coach has successfully taught other people (of your age) what you are trying to learn
  • The coach seems like a person you get along with
  • You understand each other well (literally)
  • Compare price per value, not price per hour

Red flags:

  • The coach wants you to learn an opening because he is working on it (and not because he thinks it fits you)
  • No homework
  • No prepared lesson or even asks you what you want to do in the lesson (he should know what you need, its 1v1 after all)
  • Cutting short on time regulary (eg. 60 min paid, 55 min lesson)

Step 4: Contacting and working with your coach

Unfortunately, this will take some time. But it will be all worth the time investment once you have found a good fit.

Best is a personal recommendation, but my guess is since you are reading this you don’t have one.

So, it’s tough, but doable. Every big website that offers playing (eg. Lichess.org) also lists coaches. Ultimately, it needs to be a fit for you so get in touch and see for yourself. But remember: Your coach has goals, too! In those listings you can read about your coach, but they don’t know yet. Go through those and try to make a list that has only a handful that look promising to you. To level the information discrepancy immediately, I recommend writing your coach with full information and by doing so you value his time. Also, ask him some questions to find out what his goals to coaching are.

Your introduction should contain:

  • Info: Your current rating, brief chess history and situation.
  • Info: Your goal and what you are ready to invest (time and money).
  • Question: Do you have students with similar goals? Have you had students achieving them?
  • Question: What do you think of my goals and how do we achieve them?
  • Question: What do you expect in a student?

This also shows your sincere interest in a long-term partnership. A good coach has the same problem as you the other way around: He would like to work with motivated people he thinks are great students and get along with them. So, he should be happy to have this information at hand and should answer to this seriously.

If you both see a possible fit, make a first (test) lesson. If you are satisfied and agree upon working together, give the progress some time (at least a few sessions). Chess is not learned within a few days or weeks and improvement might take some time to show.


  • 1. What do you want? What are your (chess) goals?
  • 2. What are you going to invest? Does it fit your goals?
  • 3. What kind of coach is a fit for you?
  • 4. Contacting the coach with respect and transparency

I hope this helps you finding a good coach!